Jack Frost and Callum Storm

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Reading through my October 2017 web site news, I was amazed at the similarity with this October. I had already decided on the headline for this month's News and it was uncanny that even the title is similar to last years :- the names of 2 storms entitled Ophelia and Brian.This- year Storm Callum teamed up with an early Jack Frost on 7th to set back the more tender plants.

Always the first to be affected by an early frost is impatiens tinctoria. From central Africa it is not really a surprise, in what has been a bad year for it from a number of perspectives. You smell the blackened foliage from a distance away before you see the damage.


 And another susceptible herbaceous plant is always kirengeshoma palmata. All the other many suspect plants like dahlias and salvias came through unscathed


The tremendous storm, Callum, created havoc over 3 days with howling gales and torrential rain.

The bottom of the garden by the polytunnels which fortunately weren't affected.




The little stream that feeds the Paddock Pond in spate



A new stream being formed - the road alongside the Lodge!


 The River Bran, one of the 2 rivers along with the Towy that flow through Llandovery and surrounding countryside.


 Across the river but not affected by it thanks to flood prevention schemes over the years,  are some of the houses on the eastern side of the town


 Elsewhere across Carmarthenshire there were considerable flooding, and in one case a fatality due to a landslide, the worst floods for 30 years.

The dishevelled Paddock Pond in a rather bizarre light during the storm.


Fortunately this year there was no serious damage to our tunnels and greenhouses or anywhere else, although we did have floods in the adjoining fields when our small river the Ydw overflowed its banks by a long way, some of which entered the garden at the back of the Paddock pond. 

Unlike last year we had a fabulous summer still fresh in our minds and an amazing colour show all around us, one of the best ever in the garden, as did many of our gardening friends.

Other news points were Moira's continuing recovery which was sadly slowed by an infection in her knee which is very painful for her but she is having antibiotics for it. She has a consultant appointment next week, and hopes to be given the all clear for driving again and by that time, the infection will have cleared up.

On a more mundane level I had to purchase a replacement camera as my 3 year old Nikkon just gave up the ghost, with several frustrating imperfections. I managed  to obtain from my local camera shop, second hand,in very good condition, a Panasonic Lumix bridge  camera DMC -FZ72 with similar specs to the old Nikkon. It complements my Lumix "Point and shoot" pocket sized camera DMC-TZ57 which I have had for 5 months. So far all is well with both and the pics are very encouraging. Judge for yourself because there are more pictures this month than I believe I have ever previously published, so keen have I been to try them out!!



Events like the very early frost this month, shortly followed by the three day storm, lead you to the conclusion that it was a disappointing month weatherwise. The stats however do not support support this view. 

There were 16 sunny  days, 6 more than rain days, and 10 changeable days. Towards the month end there was a relatively prolonged cold snap over 6 nights with a maximum of -6C on the 30th

Another sunny day looking across to the larch trees in Cilgwyn Forest


The gardening year has definitely ended now! Earlier in contrast there were some warm days for the time of year, many in the mid teens, max 20.3C on the first day of storm Callum!

A proper frost the day before Halloween. The ghost like structure is my attempt with masses of horti fleece to protect a 6 foot salvia confertiflora. Eventually it will overwinter in the big tunnel if it has come through the frosts.


These skyscapes show the changing nature of the weather this month














Garden update

 The garden was everything you would expect it to be in the first month of autumn, although Callum and Jack changed the complexion in the space of a week. Some tree damage and leaves of all manner of plants shredded like paper so plenty of tidying up to do alongside all the usual seasonal tasks. More frost damage later in the month on the most of the tender plants especially in the Paddock garden

A pleasing autumn combination is aconitum carmichaelii and aster "Star of Chester"







!n some ways the storm was a blessing bringing down wheelbarrow loads of apples whichwere out of reach from my fruit picker. Most of them have gone to good homes although those windfalls that were too badly damaged sadly ended up being dumped.



There is an average of 300  windfall aples in each barrow load. I wished I had counted the number of each one I carted.


 The biggest apples were all those I could not reach with the pole so they came as windfalls and went to good homes!


Sorbus "Olympic Flame" which took the brunt of the storm and lost 3 large braches. It was almost uprooted but I have managed to make it secure - I hope.



 Another tree that suffered in the storm losing 3 large main branches was a 20 year old liquidamber. With some tidying up, I was assured by a tree surgeon it may eventually come back for someone else to enjoy. This reminds me of a poem I read a long time ago which suggests that our forebears planted well so that we may do better. A nice epitaph.

Also in the picture on the left acer "Sango Kaku" commonly known as the coral bark maple, and in the foreground a superb aconitum Wilsonii group in a delicate shade of pale blue, and still in flower after the frosts


In the Paddock Garden shade border a charming pairing of strobilanthes rankanensis in blue and tricyrtis hirta, sometimes called the toad lily. Where on earth do all these acquired names come from?



It's not only trees  and shrubs that have good autumn leaf colour but many herbaceous plants too, particularly hostas


 Amsonia tabernaemontana turns a rich yellow which deepens as the autumn pogresses, as do some heucheras and persicarias, examples of each  in pots alongside.


In the last week of the month all the root crops save parsnips, which I always overwinter, were harvested and have now been stored in dry peat. Dry sand is a suitable alternative. After having avoided carrot fly for several years thanks to horti. fleece there were the tell tale signs of attack on a number of carrots. Fortunately not so bad that they can't be used which is a blessing given that carrots are forecast to be in short supply following the dry summer.



 It is appropriate, I always think,, that celeriac is harvested around Halloween, as it is I am sure, a vegetable alternative to rival pumpkins which have had it their own way for ages!. In the right hands it offers the possibilty of making something really spooky with all that mass of roots. Fanciful to think they look like a witches hair?


My constant companion in the garden is Kit Kat who takes a keen interest in what I am doing and was clearly transfixed by the celeriac. I was disappointed that he was not allowed to appear on Gardeners World  with me a few months ago. About time cats got a look in and he is after all very photogenic and well behaved. I am of course biased!!


Brasicas have improved following the onslaught by cabbage white butterflies and we now have some very large specimens of late summer savoys.In addition there are a few culiflowers and some broccoli too. Even sprouts which are a pale imitation of what I can usually grow have picked up but I won't expect a bumper crop.Red cabbage have done well having avoided the caterpillars. This is usually the case in most years. Could it be that being red they are not attractive to butterflies?

After all the summer pests, we are now troubled by rabbits which have had a go at the remaining brassicas and some of the large beetroot. They also enjoyed the apple harvest leaving trails of droppings as evidence.


In mid month I treated the lawns with autumn /winter fertiliser but unfortunately the forecast rain did not materialise so there are some scorch marks which hopefully may grow out if there is time. 

I have started taking salvia cuttings and will shortly be digging up the more susceptible salvia forms for storing in the big tunnel, which by the end of November will be bursting at the seams!

Salvia "Hot Lips" is the hardiest we grow, forming a good sized shrub in time, the woodiness adds to its robust constitution.


And gathering seed is an essential autumn task to submit for the Hardy Plant Society Seed Exchange, one of the abiding benefits of this excellent plant charity.


Seed of lunaria alba variegata (honesty) takes a lot of cleaning but leaves behing the decorative dried stems to last all winter. 



Whats looking good? 

Still plenty of lovely plants doing their thing in spite of some challenging weather. As usual the pics show off the best of them. Probably the last of the best in this gardening year and sad as I always am to see it slowly fading away, and the dark nights coming with the turning back of the clocks.

For the first time in the 10 years we have had it this  agave variegata threw up a flower spike which has failed to open but it does nevertheless appear to have so far survived the frosts. Not sadly the -6C a couple of nights ago.  It is backed up by the autumn colour of a Witch hazel  which contrasts pleasingly with the flower buds. Like all the best combinations a chance coincidence!




Hydrangea "Preziosa" and if you can spot it amidst the dark hydrangea foliage, late flowers of clematis "Blue Belle"


Showing the versatility of the genus is astrantia "Moira Reid", several flushes from late spring until autumn. For obvious reasons this is one of my favourites and is a particularly fine and tall form.


 Senecio "Angels wings" and Nerine bowdenii before the frosts


 Single dahlias and the late kniphofia "Rooperi" surprisingly resistant to the frosts until we had the -6C


A large drift of kalimeris var. unknown, an aster relative that deserves its place because of the long season of flowering from early July onwards and needing no attention.


Impatiens scabrida,  an annual form that flowers for ages, seeding around, often in the right places, but it is easy to pull up if it becomes troublesome. 


 Saxifraga fortunei "Gokka" new to me this year and really choice. Listed only by 3 nurseries in the  RHS 2018 Plant Finder"


 Even when the flowers have gone, after a frost, their framework is a picture when covered in frost. Selinum wallichianum like all umbellifers looks wonderful.


 And symphiotricum (aster) even when still in flower, benefits from a dusting of frost, one of the few left in the garden to still have flowers, which make a lovely cut spray for the house.


Wildlife and Countryside

Two bird events were a highlight. Moira counted (she thinks!) what were in the region of 50 Red Kites over the adjoining  fields following a late grass harvest. We have seen sights like this at the Red Kite Feeding Centre 5 miles away from us but never on this scale here. It was at this moment that my Nikkon camera with a 60x zoom lens decided it would play up!! and it was then I resolved to get rid of it! What a memorable picture that would have been to treasure.

On a totally different scale we had another bird collision with the conservatory; surprising really given the number of birds there are here, that we have not had more but fortunately they often survive the impact. especially the smaller, lighter birds. This time it was a nuthatch that was the victim but as I always do, I picked it up and settled it down as it was clearly just concussed. What stunning markings when seen close up, and it was easy to see, as it hung on to my fingers, how effective the claws are when climbing trees. Nothing painful just what I would call a velcro effect. I was happy when it recovered and glad to have shared such a moment.




With turning out the ewes and rams into the local fields, late calving and hedges to trash, farmers are busy at this time of year. To add to their workload, in a window of fine weather, there was a golden opportunity to get in a grass harvest from a number of fields that had been set aside for a late harvest, to make up for what had been lost during the drought this summer and a good crop they had too - silage mostly as the nights were too wet to dry it for hay. What a bonus this is. I remember when I first came to live here it was nearly all hay in small bales, and wet summers, and there were a few in the late 70's,  which could mean the loss of a substantial harvest. Reflecting back on those early years, I have reason to be grateful that small bale harvests need a lot of man (and woman) power to get it in and this presented me with the perfect opportunity to get to know many of my neighbours  and build up relationships with them in this most wonderful community.




On my late garden rounds the same day, I thought that aliens had landed but it turned out to be our neighbours gathering the hard won harvest before a forecast of heavy rain.




Only one visit this month, probably one of the last this year, to a favourite event in one of our best loved gardens,  Hergest Croft in Kington, Herefordshire for the annual Autumn Plant Fair.  Good to see the garden going from strength to strength and plans for next year already in hand.

Just two days after Callum Storm the fields were very wet, and although some of the exhibitors called off, there was still a good number in attendance and fortunately at lunchtime the sun came out and the marvellous arboretum, one of the garden's highlights, invited me to see the autumn tree and shrub colour which was some of the best I have ever seen there in the 20 or so years I have been going there.





Long term friends Sylvia and Tony with Moira. They do a large number of Plant Fairs during the year across much of England and Wales. Look out for Shady Plants. com at a Plant Hunters or Rare Plant Fairs. Both have very good nurseries attending with genuinely unusual or rare plants for sale, and always a nice garden or other visitor attraction to enjoy.


 The arboretum


Tony walking through the national collections of birches and rowans.



A choice and rare shrub which I have watched grow over the years into the fine specimen it now is. I give you Neoshirakia japonica.




There is always a guided tour of the arboretum during the Autumn Fair and this was not a posed picture although it looks like one!






 This outstanding autumn colour was on a small shrub which unusually did not appear to be labelled as most specimens are. 



 Outsde the tea rooms on the terrace overlooking the main lawn there is a long border with a range of herbaceous plants including salvias and dahlias, edged with liriope muscari in full sun and well drained soil, just the conditions the text books would never recommend. It shows that it pays never to rely on them and as Tony always says,  anyway plants can't read books!!


Unfortunately Moira was not up to the tour of the arboretum which is on a slope and covers a good few acres.

With all good wishes to friends and fellow gardeners and thanks for continuing to read our News. A marathon this month!!

Keith and Moira X